By Kathy DeMott
During the global pandemic and shutdowns, bird watching has soared as people enjoy nature with the aid of bird books and identification apps provided by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
But what if you could capture a picture and identify the birds in your own backyard and engage with family, friends and other birdwatchers around the world?
Kyle Buzzard moved to Vicksburg with his wife and children in 2020. He is co-founder of a startup called Bird Buddy, a smart bird feeder that notifies you of feathered visitors, automatically takes their pictures, and organizes the photos to view and share with others.
Buzzard, an industrial designer and hardware developer, has been recognized with over two dozen international design awards across multiple industries. His work includes design lead on Chromecast and Google X Self Driving cars.
He is currently managing director of Prota Ventures, based in Chicago, but works at home. In 2020 he teamed up with fellow Bird Buddy co-founders Franci Zidar, a software developer with scientific experience in artificial intelligence – AI – recognition, and with Ziga Vrtacic, an expert in product development and gaming apps.
“It’s not often you have a product with a common mission that you can all align with. Bird Buddy helps people learn more about birds which hopefully will lead to more time in nature. We want to build a community that cares about conservation worldwide.” Buzzard adds that the identification information gathered from the Bird Buddy will be an open source to conservation researchers. They are working on partnerships with the Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Many people enjoy watching birds at their feeders. However, the Bird Buddy has an interactive component through its mobile app which notifies you when there is a new bird species at your feeder, takes photos and videos. The gaming component of the app encourages users to collect different species, earn badges and points. The app notifies when seed levels are low, what type of seeds the birds prefer that visit your feeder, as well as suggest other seeds that could attract new species.
The app has playful graphics which appeal to children, similar to mobile app games such as Pokemon Go – except they collect and learn about birds. The Bird Buddy also recognizes bird calls and provides several facts about each species.
One of the future goals is to not only be able to identify the species of the bird but the individual birds themselves. This would enhance interaction with neighbors and friends as the birds visit different feeders – again, building community.
Launching a startup like Bird Buddy also takes a community. In November 2020, the developers began crowdfunding – an early way to prove traction on an idea and assess the need or want in the market. Launching a product is expensive, especially during the early design and production stages. Crowdfunding consists of having a financial goal based on the need, a deadline to raise the funds, and incentives. Using online platforms, they attract people who are interested in their product or goal, who then donate to help bring a product to market. Donors may receive a reward such as a discount once the product is complete. The three most common platforms are GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and Indiegogo. Each has specific criteria but all help individuals or start-up businesses raise funds.
Bird Buddy used Kickstarter, which is a platform that exists to bring creative projects to life. The developers raised over $5 million. Then they raised another $7 million in presales on Indiegogo and Shopify. In addition, they raised $8.5 million from venture capitalists. Raising over $12 million in presales enabled them bring to market their first 50,000 units in early 2021. The additional funds are being used for production of 200,000 units this year as well as for updates, marketing, and logistics. The goal is to have Bird Buddy in retail markets by next Black Friday.
It comes to market at a time when bird populations are in sharp decline around the planet.
Bird Buddy received a CES 2022 Innovation award product at this year’s Consumer Technology Association competition, which honors outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products.
Enjoying birds, crowdfunding to make a smart AI driven bird feeder, contributing to conservation and research is all in a day’s work for Vicksburg resident Kyle Buzzard.